Late last month, as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities gathered for its annual meeting, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released its latest attack on local governments and municipal employees.
The gist of the attack was that municipal workers are wildly overpaid and that spending by local governments is out of control. On June 9, the Vancouver Sun picked up the story in a column from Barbara Yaffe, repeating the CFIB’s comments without investigation.
We responded to the Vancouver Sun article with the letter below. A shortened version of this ran as a letter in the Sun on June 15.
To the editor:
Barbara Yaffe breaks no new ground in her column, ‘Public servants’ perks fuel resentment’ (June 9), but simply repeats the latest Canadian Federation of Independent Business attack on public sector wages.
Let’s talk about wages and what they mean. The CFIB claims that, Canada-wide, municipal workers get 22 per cent more than private sector workers, with nine per cent of that being wages and the rest benefits. In fact, Statistics Canada data show that, in total, municipal workers do get paid slightly higher wages – around 2.9 per cent more.
What is key is that virtually the entire difference between public and private sector wages is due to the fact that women get paid more when they work for a local government. This is true across the public sector. Aboriginal and visible minority workers also earn more than they do in the private sector. This is because there is less discrimination than in the private sector.
So let’s be clear: When the leadership of the CFIB demands public sector wage cuts, they are demanding more discrimination against women, Aboriginal workers and visible minorities.
On health and pension benefits, which make up the rest of differential, remember that the CFIB leadership not only pans public sector pensions; it also fights tooth and nail against allowing more Canadians to retire with dignity by increasing Canada Pension Plan coverage. According to the Conference Board of Canada, pensions help our communities, local economies and small businesses (which the CFIB claims to represent).
For an example of just how out of touch the CFIB leadership is becoming, look to Atlantic Canada where they have even called for their members to boycott the United Way for having the nerve to talk about the need for a living wage. It’s hard to believe that many small businesses share this agenda.
Mayors, councillors, and newspaper columnists would do well to take a critical look when they get reports from the CFIB. And our cities should take pride in creating workplaces where women, Aboriginal workers and others are more equal and more workers can retire with dignity.
President, CUPE BC
For more information, see this study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that looks at public sector wages broadly across the country. As to the broader question of overspending by local governments, the CFIB has once again ignored the question of the enormous costs that have been downloaded to local governments by the federal and provincial governments. The Columbia Institute released an important study on this last year, which can be found here.
Mark Hancock is President of CUPE BC, representing 85,000 workers in communities across BC.